Yesterday, Carwyn Jones and Leanne Wood made a joint appearance in London to launch the Welsh Government’s white paper on Brexit, ‘Securing Wales’ Future’.
Rather unorthodoxly, the white paper was developed jointly by the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru. Presumably, the Liberal Democrat Minister of Education would have had at least some input into the document as well. The document is 63 pages long and has been praised as being somewhat longer than the UK Government’s vision for Brexit.
The document has prefaces by both the First Minister and the Leader of Plaid Cymru. Carwyn echoes Theresa May’s message from last week’s announcement, that while the UK and Wales will be leaving the European Union the country will very much remain a European country and will want to actively engage with its European neighbours. Leanne Wood takes a stronger position in her forward, expressing Plaid Cymru’s desire to remain a member of several European mechanisms including the single market, EEA and EFTA, and to avoid tariff barriers (presumably through continued membership of the Customs Union).
The document breaks the Welsh Government’s position down into six key areas:
Single Market – The Welsh economy is heavily integrated with the EU and two-thirds of identifiable Welsh exports are sent to the EU. The Welsh Government wants continued access to the single market for goods, services and capital (possibly through the EFTA or EEA).
Migration – The rights of EU migrants in Wales should be guaranteed and a reciprocal agreement should be made for Welsh and UK citizens in the EU. In the future, migration from the EU should be linked to employment (with exceptions for students and those who can sustain their selves). However, Leanne Wood was reported to have said that “free movement was not a problem”, which has added some confusion over the government’s actual position.
Finance and Investment – Wales receives £680 million in EU funding each year. This funding is important to Wales to drive economic growth and jobs. The Welsh Government argue, over the long-term, EU funding should be replaced with a revision to the Welsh block grant. The Welsh Government also want to continue to participate in some EU programmes such as Horizon 2020, ERASMUS+, Creative Europe and the Wales-Ireland Programme and want the UK to continue being a partner in the European Investment Bank.
Constitution and Devolution – Devolved policy areas such as agriculture, fisheries, regional development and the environment will be exercised without an EU framework in the future. Some powers returned from the EU will be retained by Westminster (or Whitehall). It is possible that some policy decisions made by the UK Government may have a negative impact on Wales and there should be a strengthened intergovernmental mechanism for the resolution of disputes with independent arbitration where no agreement can be made.
Social and Environmental Protections and Values – Clean air, water and beaches are underpinned by EU legislation. Additional EU working rights (e.g. the Working Time Directive) resulted in safer working environments and EU laws on product safety and consumer protections helped protect the public. The Welsh Government believe that over the short-term the Great Repeal Bill will consolidate these existing laws into British law but there needs to be vigilance over the long-term that these protections are not lost.
Transitional Arrangements – It is likely that an agreement on the future relationship between the UK and EU will not be achieved within the Article 50 timescale. The Welsh Government thinks that the UK Government should come to a transitional agreement with the EU for the period following the formal exit from the EU to avoid a sudden ‘cliff edge’ departure. The document repeats the First Minister’s previous statement that leaving the EU does not mean leaving Europe.
Looking towards the future, Wales’ negotiating position is weak because the Welsh electorate voted in favour of leaving the European Union. I think that many Westminster-based Tories have also taken this as an indication that the Welsh people believe that London knows best, regardless of what the reality may be. We also have a Welsh Secretary who cares more about the feelings of his English colleagues than putting up a fight for Wales (just take a look at the Wales Bill and Air Passenger Duty – he can’t even stand up for his own constituents). It is also true to say that the voices of the Scottish and Northern Irish are heard louder and clearer by the UK Government.
Because of the Labour-Plaid agreement on this issue, it also means that Leanne Wood will be on the defensive when it comes to Welsh Government policy towards Brexit. It is Plaid Cymru’s policy now as well. This means that Brexit-opportunist Andrew RT Davies will now be the effective leader of the opposition to the Welsh Government on Brexit – although he will have the task of defending the UK Government when things go wrong as well. No doubt UKIP AMs will have a lot to say as well.
Overall, the white paper is a sensible Welsh contribution towards Brexit. Some of the demands are quite achievable, particularly those on Finance and Investment. However, I’m sure some will be non-starters for Theresa May’s Brexit team.